Amid ouster rumors, Migz told: Deliver Cha-cha votes

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star
Amid ouster rumors, Migz told: Deliver Cha-cha votes
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri
Senator Migz Zubiri / Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines — Administration lawmakers yesterday challenged Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri to fulfill his promise to President Marcos that he can muster the 18 votes needed for economic reforms in the 1987 Constitution.

“I think it is now incumbent on the Senate President to show his leadership to muster enough votes so that we can get the Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 approved in the Senate,” Deputy Speaker David Suarez told reporters at a regular briefing.

Bataan 1st District Rep. Geraldine Roman, who also joined the press conference, said based on the statements of Sen. Cynthia Villar, four allies of the Chief Executive have expressed apprehension over Charter amendments, so they should listen to the President.

“If they are really allies, they would actually listen to the request of the President to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution,” Roman, who chairs the House committee on women and gender equality, said.

Another pro-Charter change (Cha-cha) proponent, La Union 1st District Rep. Francisco Paolo Ortega, surmised that senators may just be testing the waters, so to speak, or “just throwing a number” for whatever purpose it may serve them, but would do well if they focus on hearings.

“I’m more focused on the statement that businessmen… according to the senators, are not in favor (of Cha-cha). For me, they should engage in the Senate’s hearings on RBH6 because it is there that advantages and disadvantages surface,” Ortega said.

“Especially if these are business tycoons, moguls or big business people, then they should weigh in on the pros and cons. So I suggest that they attend the hearings also here in the House,” he added.

Zambales 1st District Rep. Jefferson Khonghun said that it is in situations like this that people’s real core – in this case, senators and congressmen – come out, or those who really have compassion for people and who show their love for country.

“We’re hoping that our senators will be open-minded with regard to changes in our Constitution. We have heard and seen our businessmen, or economists and even constitutionalists, that we should amend our Charter, which has deterred foreign investments,” Khonghun said.

Senators back Migz

Amid this development, senators have signed a resolution expressing support for Zubiri as “a lot of buzz” about his ouster from the helm of the upper chamber resurfaced.

Senators Sonny Angara and Sherwin Gatchalian confirmed that they have signed the resolution to show support for the Senate President and gratitude for defending the institution, especially with the people’s initiative (PI) for constitutional amendment pushing for Congress to vote as one and jointly diminishing the power of 24 senators against 316 congressmen.

Gatchalian said he signed a resolution of support, but clarified that there was no attempt to change the Senate leadership under Zubiri.

“I signed a resolution to show my support for SP and gratitude and defend the institution, especially when the PI appears. As a sign of gratitude, I signed a resolution to show my support,” he added.

Asked whether the resolution was meant to counter the attempt to change the Senate leadership, Gatchalian answered: “There was none. The resolution was to show gratitude and to say thanks.”

“I don’t hear anything, and we saw how much SP fought for the institution,” he said.

Asked about reports that his name also cropped up as a possible replacement for Zubiri, Angara asserted that there was no truth to that.

“In fact, I signed the resolution in support of the Senate President,” Angara said. “Since the rumors seem to keep coming back, we just want to put the issue to rest so we can work properly.”

Asked whether the resolution was a “loyalty check,” Angara answered, “Something like that.”

Sen. Imee Marcos confirmed the buzz about changes in the Senate’s leadership amid efforts to amend the 1987 Constitution, particularly three economic provisions – public services, education and the advertising industry.

“There is a lot of buzz, but all the buzz comes from the Congress (House of Representatives), not the (Senate). It’s funny. They can just change the Speaker, but why do they interfere with the Senate presidency?” Marcos told Senate reporters before the start of yesterday’s session.

She added that she was unaware of the resolution of support, but maintained that those trying to oust Zubiri do not have the numbers.

“I don’t know anything because there is no number. There’s a lot of pressure to change Zubiri, but it’s all coming from outside the Senate. So strange,” Marcos said.

Under the rules, any senator who will garner a simple majority or 12 votes can become Senate president.

Marcos pointed out that nobody wants to be the Senate president, which is a tough job.

“No one wants his job. That’s a useless job,” she said.

Sen. Cynthia Villar admitted having heard about reports of a possible change in the Senate leadership, thus prompting a resolution expressing support for Zubiri.

Villar, however, clarified that she has yet to see the document.

“(There was) no coup… How can there be a change in leadership when it was Senate President Zubiri who is soliciting signatures?” she said.

Villar was reportedly not asked to sign the resolution.

“For me, as long as the Senate is protected, I’m fine ... as long as they protect the Senate system,” she said.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada was reported to be the possible replacement for Zubiri.

Estrada, however, maintained that he has no plans to take the position away from Zubiri.

“There (are) rumors circulating even late last year that my name is buzzing, I don’t know where it’s coming from,” Estrada said.

He also admitted having received information that he would be stripped of committee chairmanship, particularly the committees on labor, employment and human resources development, and national defense and security, peace, unification and reconciliation.

“I do not know their motive why my name is always included (to replace the Senate president). I am close to everyone,” he said.

As of last night, no changes in the Senate leadership and committee chairmanships had been announced.

Senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Joseph Victor Ejercito said they are willing to support the resolution expressing their support for Zubiri.

As of last night, however, no copy of the resolution was released to the media.

Public hearings

Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros has called for the suspension of the ongoing public hearings of RBH6 as part of the effort to amend the 1987 Constitution in the absence of Senate rules on constituent assembly (con-ass).

Hontiveros echoed the concern raised by Sen. Francis Escudero, who pressed the Senate to craft rules and regulations before pushing through with another hearing on Cha-cha.

“Well, that’s why Sen. Chiz raised in one session the prejudicial question that I raised in the first hearing, that until the rules about Cha-cha have not been resolved, about con-ass in particular, and if we are doing these hearings, we are embodying con-ass, maybe (hearings) should be suspended first, not continued,” Hontiveros said.

During the Senate plenary session last Wednesday, Escudero underscored the need to resolve the issue on whether or not both chambers of Congress should convene as a constituent assembly by separate or joint session.

He said settling the matter before proceeding to Cha-cha talks would help avoid potential bickering due to “varying rules.”

Hontiveros said that even if the Senate subcommittee on constitutional amendments continues the hearing, they would maximize the effort to oppose RBH6.

“We will use it as a platform to convince and signal to our countrymen that there is no need for even economic amendments, whether in public services or in the education or advertising to answer our problems and get our needs, achieve our dreams,” she added.

Getting seven senators to vote against Cha-cha will have a strong fighting chance, according to Hontiveros.

She said that based on the statements of some senators in hearings and interviews, not only minority senators are against Cha-cha.

RBH6 needs the votes of three-fourths or 18 of the 24 senators to pass before it could be submitted to a bicameral conference and, eventually, to a plebiscite for people’s approval. – Cecille Suerte Felipe, Sheila Crisostomo

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